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Is Elvis hiding in Iraq ?

March 25th, 2004

Although there’s been a fair bit of discussion about the Newspoll showing that 65 per cent of people thought the war in Iraq had increased the danger of a terrorist attack in Australia[1], the really striking result was ignored. This concerned the proportion of people who accepted the government’s stated belief that the invasion of Iraq had reduced the danger of terrorist attack. Only 1 per cent of respondents said that the invasion had made a terrorist attack less likely, and less than 0.5 per cent said it made an attack a lot less likely. You can read the details here (PDF file). This is substantially less than the proportion of people who are reported (in other surveys) to believe that Elvis is alive or that aliens are controlling government policy.

fn1. The question doesn’t distinguish between the interpretations “the Iraq war has raised Australia’s profile as a target” and “the Iraq war has increased the risk of terrorism everywhere”. I have previously argued that the latter view is the right one.

Update By complete coincidence, this story in the Oz reports that, in polls for the mayoral election in the Gold Coast, an Elvis ‘tribute artist’ has 8 per cent support. OK, it’s in Queensland, but 8 per cent is still a lot more than 0.5.

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  1. March 26th, 2004 at 00:16 | #1

    John, you must put a slightly more expansive version of this one up at Crooked … for the comments.

  2. March 26th, 2004 at 08:28 | #2

    Yep. Just like the British declaring war on Germany as a result of the invasion of Poland made the Blitz more likely.

  3. March 26th, 2004 at 10:13 | #3

    murph – for your analogy to hold, the British would have had to declare war on Germany for the purpose of decreasing the chance of a Blitz.

    Unless you’re suggesting that Iraq was about to invade the U.S. or maybe Australia? I must admit, that fear has never kept me awake at night.

    “he who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that” – J.S.Mill

  4. Mork
    March 26th, 2004 at 10:22 | #4

    But John, Saddam was a bad guy, and the bad guys are bad guys, and bad guys sometimes like to hang out together, so they might have gotten together and been even worse!

    So obviously we had to invade.

    Murph – please correct me if I have failed to sum up the case correctly.

  5. March 26th, 2004 at 10:45 | #5

    The failure of the Iraq attack to reduce the propagation of global terrorism (and the proliferation of WMD) has illustrated an enduring truth of social theory: power politics only makes sense with classic post-Westphalian states which are organised representatives of a more or less homogenous community.

    The terrorists themselves cannot be treated power-politically, since they are:
    undetectable (civil-social)
    undeterrable (fundamental-suicidal)
    They have to be treated as xenomorphs and exterminated in a more or less ongoing bug-hunt.

    The Republican theory of so-called Rogue State enablers of mad-terrorism and WMD-militarism has been falsified. Rogue states like Iraq probably prevent terrorism more than they promote it. THis is because they keep a lid on the tribal and sectarian factionalism that is the social-substrate for bomb-chucking psycho behaviour. They also tend to be secularist and pro-womens rights.

    Terrorism is the weapon of the weak, and emanates from weak, (not rogue) states which are unable to control their citizens eg Palest. Auth, Afghanistan and now Iraq. These states are weak and are then subject to sub-state manipulation. THus Al Qaeda took over the Taliban, rather than the Taliban hosted Al Quaeda.

    The attempt by Western states to treat the weak host states as somehow responsible or enabling of the terrorists is to confuse cause with effect. By invading or sanctioning these SW ASIAN states the West may in fact destroy the few remaining political restraints on terrorist anarchy whilst encouraging anti-West nationalism in the general population.

    Neither of these actions addresses the source of the problem – which is dysfunctional civil societies of SW Asia.

  6. Observa
    March 26th, 2004 at 11:58 | #6

    Well you can ask plenty of questions in polls like- “Do you think the religion of Islam threatens Australia’s way of life?”
    That doesnt answer the question, as to whether or not you should take a particular course of action, based on your findings.

  7. Observa
    March 26th, 2004 at 12:20 | #7

    Of course we should not forget when polling, to further our knowledge, by asking a question like- “Do you think the Religion of Islam has enhanced Australia’s way of life?”

  8. Homer Paxton
    March 26th, 2004 at 12:29 | #8

    Jack,
    Technically the LEADERS of AQ are not fundamental suicidal as they only encourage others to die and go to paradise.

    I would have thought a fundamentalist who knew he was going to paradise wouldn’t let others get in front of them, they would desire to get there as soon as possible.

  9. derrida derider
    March 26th, 2004 at 13:04 | #9

    Seems to me that the government line in this is politically silly. They ought instead to be saying it was worth it – ie, intoning in Churchillian tones:

    “Invading Iraq has made us even more of an immediate target of the evildoers, so fixity of purpose is more needed than ever. No sacrifice is too great to rid the world of such evil … bear any burden, pay any price …now let us each so bind ourselves to our duty … etc”.

    That’s just as dishonest but would play a lot better than their current “No, no, honest, it hasn’t made us a target and its so untrue we have to burn any heretics who say otherwise”.

    Apropos Iraq, what do others think of the “let’s withdraw now” line of Labor? I’ve always thought this adventure would end in tears, but I reckon now we’ve made the mess we have an obligation to try and clean it up. Just saying “You should never have made the mess” is true but unhelpful.

    John, Jack and others – what do you think we should do now, apart from sacking the bunglers who got us there?

  10. March 26th, 2004 at 13:46 | #10

    Ideally we should stay until the UN accepts an invitation to takeover if necessary and/or whatever our legal obligations under laws applicable to occupying armies are met.

    Morally, given that our contribution to the welfare of Iraqi people must be close to zero, I do not see what purpose we play by staying there, apart from providing peronal security to Australians involved in the economic restructuring process, an enterprise of dubious worth itself. The invading armies are tainted by a lot of bad PR. They must be turned over into something new. We must leave if only to go back under a different banner.

    Unfortunately, we don’t know what the USA is planing for Iraq now. If they ever happen outstay their welcome (!) then we would be foolish to also stay just for the sake of that white elephant – the ANZUS alliance or whatever it’s called these days.

    Any discussion of what our actions are in terms of sending messages to Osama are opportunistic nonsense that work just as easily in reverse. I thought we were not supposed to factor in the motivations of madmen anyway. Maybe the day we leave Iraq we should also bomb some Afghani warlord stronghold to underline the point and appease the sensibilities of our jarheaded hawks and newspaper proprietors. Iraq and the WOT must be separated otherwise it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Iraqis ultimately will pay more dearly than anybody as usual.

  11. March 26th, 2004 at 15:08 | #11

    derrida derider

    Electoral partisans (ie some voters) are supporting troop withdrawals to punish Coalition of the Willing states for engaging in deceitful and inept security practices. Terrorists also seek to punish such states, and will benefit from the electoral backlash.

    The first requisite for remedial action is to admit failure and then rectify the identified error. But withdrawing troops from Iraq is not required to do this.

    The war in iraq was a strategic blunder. It has failed to achieve its objectives of curtailing proliferation, stamping out terrorist enablers and intimidating regional Arab agencies eg PA, Iran, into accomodation.

    GW II has achieved one goal: the establishment of a fledgling democracy in the Gulf region.

    THe ALP withdrawal-ist policy is a bad one in itself, because it endangers the one good thing to come out of this mess. Pulling allied troops out of Iraq would doom the neo-democratic state there to oblivion. Iraqi would probably end up falling into the hands of an Alpha-male, sectarian or secular, who would use the oil to spread WMDs or fundies.

    The withdrawal-ist position is also bad in method, since it appears to be in response to a heightened terrorist threat. This sends the message to terrorists everywhere: look, see, your military means are effective. Mass murder will achieve your political goals.

    This will endanger vulnerable Islamic states, which tend to be susceptible to terrorist pressure. It will also humiliate the Western Homeland, which will be seen as accomodating to Islamacist thuggery.

    We have to stay the course if we want to prevent a mistake from turning into a catastrophe.

  12. March 26th, 2004 at 16:36 | #12

    I think what the Murph analogy was bringing out was the effect on short term risks. Let’s try a different analogy: a building is on fire, and people jump out of the windows. Jumping is a greater short term risk, but less over the long term.

    That doesn’t tell us whether the situation applies – but it does show that assessments of whether going into Iraq raised risks aren’t telling the whole story. We do need to ask the larger questions, about whether overall improvements are being made.

  13. Anthony
    March 27th, 2004 at 01:18 | #13

    Let’s try another analogy. You burn down the house because of the threat of giant Amazonian cockroaches which weren’t actually there but never mind, jumping out the windows will only encourage them outside so we’d best stay in. Wait here kids, I’m off to speak to my underwriter

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